Xbox Fitness! Surely that’s the perfect tool to whip a tragically unfit games writer into shape? Pass the protein powder.
Xbox One exclusive, requires Kinect.
Free to Gold subscribers.
About 30 workouts included. A disappointingly small selection available for purchase in-app.
Check it out on the Xbox Store.
I’m quite skinny, as 5’8″ women go, and as a result of this privilege people tend to assume I’m quite fit. This was useful to me as a teenager, because if there’s anything I disliked more than PE classes I can’t recall it right now, and an earnest discussion about my ficitonal after school jogging usually got me out of tennis or whatever other godawful physical activity was happening so I could “do my Latin homework” (ie, hide behind the windbreak to eat candy and play The Legend of Zelda). It still works today; nobody ever assumes I’m a lazy slob who works nine hours a day in an office chair and then spends the remaining seven on the couch playing video games.
I have absolutely no motivation to change my lifestyle. I don’t enjoy playing sport. I don’t believe in the “runner’s high”. I’d quite like big enormous muscles but then again I’d also like not to have knobbly knees, and instead I’ve just learned to accept my body for what it is and give zero shits about what anyone else thinks. Unfortunately, my various doctors (and my optometrist, weirdly) have ganged up on me and demanded I change my habits to incorporate some sort of regular cardiovascular exercise before my blood pressure actually causes my head to pop completely off my body, causing undue distress and cleaning duties for my housemate.
How the fuck do you suddenly become interested in exercise after decades of laughing hollowly every time the idea is tabled? Exercise hurts. It’s boring. There’s no way I’m dashing around outside where people can look at me (did you miss the bit where I carefully constructed a lifestyle that involves me staying in my house all the time), and where when I get tired I still have to walk back. And the gym is so far away! I don’t want to walk a couple of kilometres in yoga pants in the freezing cold and/or boiling heat!
Surely, I thought to myself, there’s some way I can get around this with the power of video games.
It’s easy to be skeptical of get-fit-at-home programs (especially if you’re one of those bright orange people whose bodies look like a string of anal beads stuffed into a condom, and whose definition of “fitness” includes “being able to deadlift twice your body weight”) but there’s a reason aerobics programs continue to be broadcast and to sell. Having a recording shout at you in the comfort and privacy of your own home is a pleasant and easy method of fitting that 45-minutes-three-times-a-week into your schedule.
Do you guys remember Wii Fit? I never had a Wii, actually, so I missed out on the whole thing, but I had friends who took advantage of Nintendo’s gentle software to ease them into active lifestyles filled with running, yoga and being obnoxious about protein shakes. Mileage varied, but one thing was certain: here was a decent doorway to fitness.
I was already writing the series chronicling my rise to athleticism by way of video games. How inspired you would all become! How modest I would be about my rippling six pack!
With these thoughts rattling around my skull, I downloaded Xbox Fitness. I figured it would be even better thanks to the Kinect sensor, which can show you if you’re performing moves right and take an assessment of your heart rate. I liked the idea of recording my progress, raising the intensity slowly, and comparing my stats to friends – after all, if I was going to gamify this thing, then I had to win. I would become the fittest of the fit. In a few months I’d be doing marathons and talking about electrolytes and wearing appalling coloured sneakers with the best of them.
In the back of my mind I was already writing the series chronicling my rise to athleticism by way of video games. How inspired you would all become! How modest I would be about my rippling six pack! How compelling my daily journals of gradual achievement would be!
Then I actually started using the damn thing and oh my god, you guys: Xbox Fitness does not fuck around. It is not for the likes of me.
Xbox Fitness has a number of problems, which I’ll discuss shortly, but the main one is this: there are no beginner programs. If you spend the time to go through and check every available free video, you’ll see that not a single one is low intensity and beginner friendly.
“If you spend the time to go through and check every available free video, you’ll see that not a single one is low intensity and beginner friendly.”
This seems insane to me. I know Microsoft is targeting the non-gamer with a lot of this stuff, hoping to expand the market by luring the general consumer into trying video games on their fantastic all-in-one entertainment system, but the fact remains that the majority of Xbox One consoles are owned by gamers. I hate to pander to stereotype here, but if your hobby involves spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on things that keep you firmly attached to your chair, there’s a reasonable chance you’re not exactly super fit. Surely Microsoft could see the advantage of throwing in programs designed to ease in out-of-shape stay-at-homes like me?
Every program I tried before my enthusiasm was completely crushed left me panting and physically broken within minutes, unable to continue – not at all the right way to go about sensibly improving your cardiovascular fitness. (None had proper warm ups, cool downs or stretches, either, although I hope there are some that feature these). I’m not alone in encountering this problem, either – the advice from people who have had success with the program is to just do as much as you can every day until you get there. That’s great, and some people have had excellent results, but guys, if I had the capacity to do that I probably wouldn’t be desperately turning to video games in hope of finding some way to motivate myself through a lifelong mental block.
There may be a few suitable programs available there, but good luck finding them. One of Xbox Fitness’s most frustrating aspects is its awful interface. This is a bit of an Xbox One and Metro bugbear, but it’s especially irritating with content that could so easily be filtered by “intensity” in addition to the various options available – which unfortunately tend to favour completely inappropriate automatic recommendations rather than providing useful options.
I miss you, Wii Fit Trainer! You never TRIED TO KILL ME.
The Kinect is nowhere near as useful as you might imagine, either. Advanced users find the sensor routinely fails to recognise their actions. When it works, it does show you which muscles groups you’re using, which is excellent if you already know what you’re doing – but for beginners there’s little to no advice on how to perform the required exercise correctly to achieve results.
The under-utilisation of the Kinect became really apparent to me when I tried one of the few yoga programs available. “Yoga,” I thought to myself. “Gentle stretching and breathing exercises. Yes. that’s a good way to start.”
First of all: do not jump straight into Yoga Inferno. This is not designed for beginners. In a nod to the fact that not everybody switching on their Xbox One is a sculpture brought to life, the program advised me to copy one of two background models as a beginner, and the other if I were more advanced.
I probably don’t need to explain that the beginner model’s poses were still too hard for me, but what really got my blood pressure up (precisely the opposite desired effect) was the way the program made no effort to teach you the poses despite having the Kinect there, bloated with potential for doing so.
“Do this,” the presenter would comment, blithely, twisting her body through about seven impossible angles. “Now do this. Oh, wait, you haven’t finished doing the last one yet? Too bad, here’s another one, and this one involves you not looking at the TV so you can’t even see what’s happening. Oh and by the way we’ve done eight more already.”
Throughout this, on the few occasions I could actually see the interface, the Xbox One gave me what it probably thought was helpful advice, but which pretty much amounted to “you’re doing it wrong” and low to no star ratings.
Advice: if you are a deeply unfit games journalist do NOT try Xbox Fitness's "Yoga Inferno" as a nice way to relax on lunch break.
— Brenna Hillier (@draqul) June 5, 2014
*fans self* I think – in the year 2014 – I'm going to buy a Wii, so I can learn yoga without having a virtual woman TRY TO KILL ME
— Brenna Hillier (@draqul) June 5, 2014
Xbox Fitness feels like a wasted opportunity. The Wii showed that there is room for genuinely supportive and useful fitness software on video game consoles, and with the Kinect Microsoft had a chance to really knock it out of the park. Instead, it’s thrown together a poorly-curated selection of straight-to-DVD exercise programs and whacked on a bit of socialisation that only serves to make you feel ashamed of the fact that you’ve been brave enough to try and change the habits of a lifetime. It makes no real attempt to utilise the potential of the Kinect – something of a running theme with the new sensor, I’m afraid.
On the other hand
There are plenty of Xbox Fitness success stories out there if you go searching. I personally found the gamification pretty underwhelming as a motivation – but that might be because I was starting so far behind the pack, and because the buggy sensor recognition and lack of handholding resulting in really poor stars. As Adventure Time says, “sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something”. If you have the willpower, you’ll probably get a lot more out of this app.
Since I gave Xbox Fitness a go I’ve returned to working on my cardiovascular health the good old-fashioned way: running on a treadmill while watching deeply inappropriate episodes of American Horror Story to freak out gym spectators, and trying out a succession of increasingly expensive apps in the hopes of finding one that actually makes me feel like continuing. I’ve recently made a lot of progress thanks to meeting a new trainer who insisted I try a heart rate monitor and taught me that I’d been aiming too high, too fast, all my life, and thereby making the whole thing significantly more unpleasant than it needs to be. (Xbox Fitness, if you are going to creepily stare at my blood, then you might have told me I was exercising myself into the risk of cardiac event.)
I expect there will come a time, sometime within the next few months if I’m dedicated, when I reach the level of fitness and proficiency required to make Xbox Fitness a useful addition to my exercise routine – maybe I’ll be able to cancel my gym subscription and stay home, working out whenever it suits me and taking advantage of the cool progress-tracking features of the app. Until then, I’ve shoved my Xbox One back behind the PS4 again, where it can’t reproach me for sitting on the couch.
Disclaimer: some aspects of this article are exaggerated for the sake of humour; Brenna regularly weight trains and practices a martial art. She genuinely hates cardiovascular exercise and is under medical orders to do it, though.